Having done some fairly serious auditioning of the MAC MA600, I have concluded that it is a 'mid-fi' product at best. Treat yourself to something from Audio Research, Jeff Rowland, Conrad Johnson, Jadis etc. MACs are built like tanks, but what you want to match with the f-30s are true audiophile components. In all fairness, though, the high-end MAC tube gear is a big step forward from your integrated amp.
Did a little web surfing, but do you have a $6000 Mac MA6600 with a $3800 VPI Prime table all driven by a $700 Ortofon cartridge? Ivor Teifenbrun taught us all decades ago that the balance of system investment must lean towards the front end, the best possible table/arm/cartridge/phono pre-preamp, and then diminish investment (if necessary) downstream. I would recommend two things right away, invest in a serious phono cartridge worthy of what's downstream and then add the amazing Herbies Audio Lab turntable mat for $80. The Herbies mat on my Basis/Graham/BenzMicro/EAR $15000 front-end stunned me.
Yes I have the MAC MA6600 retail $6,500. My first inclination was to get an external phono amp that could run both MM and MC cartridges. This way I could use my current cartridge later upgrading to a MC. I was leaning towards either the Herron VTPH-2, Chinook or an AR. Biggest issue here was matching up with input impedance of only 20k. Herron looked like it might be the way to go. I do think about going tube at some point and don't believe I really 200w per channel. Listening room is say 12x18. This hobby can be daunting at times but I love it.
You can always get more hung up with things like a cartridge, then oops the tone arm is not the best for this cart. and the whole set up doesn't work optimally with this table etc. etc.. It is kind of humorous though that an $80 mat made such a big impression.
You really haven't said what the sound was missing or described this poor quality sound. It might be useful to know what your hoping to hear that your current set up is failing to provide.
If the McIntosh amp is really mid fi as described by others then you know what you need. My own philosophy is that the speakers are the most important elements of a sound system. I see how they sell very expensive cartridges now.
I'd also strongly suggest you do a LOMC cartridge. I'm a big Dynavector fan, but there are several in the $2K range that are very good. Do some auditions. Consider a Sutherland 20/20 for a head unit - very nicely engineered and very reasonable second-hand.
Good luck & happy listening!
Very good advice so far!
How many watts you need depends on the sensitivity of your speakers. Why most tube users like highly sensitive speakers. But I feel, just me personally, that the amp controls the tone of your system, I started into this hobby years ago with an Adcom amp, 200wpc, very nice for the price! And I went through 3 pairs of speakers and the overall sound of the system really didn't change. Sure one speaker may have been slightly louder, or had cleaner treble, but the big bass sound of that amp was a constant. Switching to the Forte' amp I've got now changed the entire character of the stereo.
And of course the preamp feeds the amp, also very important to the basic sound of your system. This is critical, mess up here and nothing before it,
or after it, can make a difference.
But I am speaking in generalities, I've read articles that advise one buy a stereo from the speakers back, buying your source gear last. This may be good advice? And I agree with the others that your cartridge and phono pre are not up to the rest of your gear. A really good phono pre, which doesn't have to cost a lot, can really wake up that analog front end! It was a major step up for me, when I went to a separate phono pre it really woke the analog up and it sailed past my digital front end in one leap! Personally I went from the one built into my Parasound Preamp to a $1000 Phonomena, which isn't even a super choice but it still wowed me big time! More air, more soundstage! More bass!
This revelation prompted me to jump up a few notches to a much better cartridge. I was worried, will I hear a real difference between a $500 and a $1500 cartridge? I mean, enough to justify the cost? And wow did it ever! Jumping from a Sumiko Special III, to a Lyra Delos was some of the best money I ever spent in my system! On my vpi Classic. I'm not that familiar with your particular gear, but this was my experience with my system.
And look at it this way, if you do buy a cartridge and preamp, it will make a major upgrade to your sound that you will hear and appreciate! Even if it's not the tweak you are looking for, it will still be money well spent. And also leave a few hundred for a new phono cable! A good phono cable doesn't have to break the bank, great cables can be had for reasonable prices.
And I will say that you do have some nice gear, I'm sure it will be easy to coax more out of it.
Did a little web surfing, but do you have a $6000 Mac MA6600 with a $3800 VPI Prime table all driven by a $700 Ortofon cartridge?
So if you vary the funds spent on cartridge you can vary the sound quality respectively by increasing or decreasing?
Yes that is what I have for equipment. But before I upgrade to MC cartridge I need phono stage. Since the MAC has a low input impedance on line stages of 20k I need to make sure it is compatible. Right now I'm leaning towards the Herron VTPH-2 but am still looking for other options too.
If you want to eventually move to a MC cart. I would stay away from the lower priced ARC phono preamps. The PH8 or Ref Pnono 2 would be better choices.
I have a Fosgate Signature phono stage. This is a great sounding tube phone preamp that is highly adjustable. I am using a Benz Zebra wood LO MC cart with absolutely no problem.
Sorry about jumping into this topic late. I have an ASR Mini Basis Exclusive phono amp and it made my Thorens TD 145/Grado ME + mono sing, which is really saying something. Now I'm waiting for a low output Grado Statement Sonata 1 mono and will pair it with the ASR phono amp and TD 145. I do have a Herbies record mat on the TD 145 and that was crazy good from the very start. So I'm slowly turning the Thorens TD 145 into a Franken-thorens but I'm currently using the stock TP 16 tonearm.
But the overall point being that the ASR Mini Basis is a great phono stage for its price and it will support all cartridge types, even low output cartridges. It reaches up to 72 decibels of gain if I'm not mistaken.
I can hardly wait to receive my new Grado and being as such, posted a topic concerning cartridge alignment in the Tech Talk forum.
In my experience, the more money you spend, the better the results....given well respected name brands. As you get to the top of the heap, your money buys ever smaller increases in performance.
In my experience, the more money you spend, the better the results..
In my experience the more you think how to spend money for best value the better results you get no matter how much you spend.
Which component you should upgrade first is a hard question to answer because it depends upon several factors, including your assessment of the strenghts and weaknesses of each individual component, recognition of what you are trying to change, and finally your budget.
In general, I will say that if your goal is to make the most impactful change in your system the order would go like this, from most to least: speakers, analog front end (cartridge, tonearm, phono stage/SUT, turntable), preamp, digital front end and amplifier last.
I'm not saying that the components at the end of the list do not make a difference - they do. But complete character change of a system will only occur by replacing the final transducer or the source. IMO
You have a good cartridge, a good turntable, a good integrated amp,and good speakers. The one weak link that pops is the Mac's phono stage. Before you move to a low output MC cartridge, try to see what a quality phono stage would do with your current 2M Black, which is a great-tracking, great-sounding, high performance MM cart.
Maybe you could mail order a good phono stage and use their 30-day trial period to see how much it livens up your musical presentation. Or check with a local shop and see if they'll loan you a trade-in or demo model as proof of concept. Or maybe an audio buddy could slide one in to see. I suspect that lots of phono stages would outperform your Mac phono stage even if you keep the cart.
You might look into a Jolida JD9 mk II as they're reasonably priced for their performance, very good sounding, have multiple gain settings, and lots of settings for resistance for MC and capacitance for MM carts. The JD9 would handle any low, medium, or high output cartridge you might have now or in the future.
You might try to chase down a MAGI Phonomenal phono stage. It's MM, MI, and HOMC only, but it's a handwired tube unit for about a grand that's been favorably compared to the Manley Steelhead. I was lucky to have an audiobuddy who wanted to sell his; there aren't many out there. It brought my system to a new level, and I too have a high performing MM cartridge, the Audio Technica AT150MLX.
Or maybe contact Musical Sounds about there demo ASR Mini Basis Exclusive MK II;
Anyhow, I would agree with Johnnyb53 that a better phono amp would deliver better results from the gear that you already have.
I would match phono stage to cartridge not the other way around. If I were you I would probably replace the Ortofon with Soundsmith Carmen or higher and see what happens. Then phono stage. Then speakers. Then amps. And cables.And power regenerator/conditioner.
Go with the herron and don't look back!
I suggest infrastructure.
First, clean up your records. I use 80 KHz ultrasonic cleaning, and it is like doubling the price of a major component (over my conventional record cleaner). Added benefit: extends stylus life. So before you spend big bucks on a wundercart, spend some money to protect it from groove grunge.
Second, clean up your power. Most power comes out of the wall looking like zombie apocalypse. Buy an isolation transformer from Plitron and put it in another room, because when it does its job it growls. For $1000 you get a significant sonic improvement (smoother) and, as above, protect your equipment from surges, DC, etc.